The Concept of Sin (King Lear)

Essay by grapey666High School, 12th grade March 2002

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"I am a man

More sinn'd against than sinning." (Lear: III.ii.ll.54-5)

Sin and the evil it unleashes is one of the concerns of tragedy, since one character flaw or fault can set the protagonist/principle character in a play on a headlong course to disaster. His/her behaviour will also impact on others and may spawn/propagate/bring about further evils.

The ancient Greeks and the writers and philosophers of medieval times had been preoccupied by definitions of morality, sin and justice. Elizabethan writers like Shakespeare had inherited a body of opinion from the writings of their predecessors. This caused them to consider the notion of divine judgement i.e. the fact that God inevitably punishes man for his sins, and to postulate/claim that virtuous behaviour was the only way of avoiding misery and achieving some kind of peace in this world.

The seven deadly sins or vices are:

1. PRIDE - arrogance, having an overly high opinion of oneself

2. COVETOUSNESS - an overwhelming desire to possess something that belongs to someone else

3. LUST - a strong (animal) desire for sexual satisfaction

4. ENVY - unpleasant and grudging feelings of admiration for things belonging to someone else

5. GLUTTONY - excessive eating and drinking/animal-like greed

6. ANGER - feelings of rage resulting from a real or imagined insult or lack of respect

7. SLOTH - laziness and resistance to any kind of exertion/effort

The excess of emotion/passion that such vices engender causes man to lose his judgement/reason and to commit sin, leading to acts of adultery, treachery, torture, treason, murder and suicide. In order to avoid becoming the victim of his own vice, man must strive

to live a virtuous life. He must at all times try to be moderate and temperate in his behaviour. Only by these means will he be able...